Sunday, August 31, 2008

What's a tabloid news-week without a case of religious pareidolia, complete with weeping onlookers?

Bark if you see Mary

An uncanny likeness of the Virgin Mary formed into the bark of a Scarborough tree has left dumbfounded residents wondering if their neighbourhood has been divinely blessed.

(Via Aberrant News.)
NASA Has Its Closest Look at Geysers on Saturn Moon

Since the discovery of the jets in 2005, the moon, Enceladus, has jumped to near the top of the list of potential places for life in the solar system. A warm spot near Enceladus's south pole powers the jets and may also melt below-surface ice into water, a necessity for living organisms.

On Monday, the NASA spacecraft Cassini made its latest flyby of Enceladus (pronounced en-SELL-ah-dus), passing 30 miles above the moon’s surface at 40,000 miles an hour.

Despite the high speed, Cassini was able to take razor-sharp images that, at seven meters per pixel, offer a resolution 10 times greater than earlier views.

Mark Bryan is today's featured artist.
What are we seeing here?

My money is on a a mass of tethered balloons, but the object seems just unusual enough to warrant a closer look.

For more information, click here.

(Thanks to William Michael Mott for the heads-up!)
Gustav is being Twittered. has moved! The site previously known as can now be reached at

My blog is intact.
Mandatory evacuations to begin Sunday morning in New Orleans

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city beginning 8 a.m. Sunday but urged residents to consider escaping "the mother of all storms" before then.

"You need to be scared," Nagin said of the Category 4 hurricane tearing along Cuba's western coast. "You need to be concerned, and you need to get your butts moving out of New Orleans right now. This is the storm of the century."

"You Need To Be Scared": the mantra of the new century.

Mars Rover On the Road Again (Gallery)

Opportunity used its own entry tracks from nearly a year ago as the path for a drive of 6.8 meters (22 feet) bringing the rover out over the top of the inner slope and through a sand ripple at the lip of Victoria Crater. The exit drive, conducted late Thursday, completed a series of drives covering 50 meters (164 feet) since the rover team decided about a month ago that it had completed its scientific investigations inside the crater.

In Tucson I met the Vatican Observatory's Chris Corbally (seen here being prepped for audio) . . .

. . . and astrobiologist Neville Woolf, with whom I had a fun chat. I managed to keep my discussion with Woolf fairly seamless; other interviews were relatively clunky or burdened with self-inflicted pauses as I concentrated on pointedly ignoring the ever-present camera.

Television's an inherently illusory medium: the final product is a polished sliver of the actual process. Fortunately, as "investigator," my role was about as glamorous as I could expect; the bulk of my "technical" duties involved helping to carry a tripod.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cicada shell cosplay

The streets may not be ready for Shokotan's "cicada shell" look, but that doesn't stop the multi-talented entertainer from decking herself out on occasion.

Shokotan, who talked about her fascination with cicada molts and showed off part of her collection in a television appearance last year, showed up at a recent concert wearing the insect shells on her head. According to this article on Excite News, the crowd went wild at the end of her performance when she tossed the crispy shells into the front row.

Forget what "the streets" find palatable; I find this genuinely fetching. And what better way to bring the wonders of entomology to the masses?
Because Twitter is so 2007 . . .

Today's featured artist is Phil Noto.
Thanks to this hypnotic video I'm now deathly afraid of trap-jaw ants.

Neanderthals were not 'stupid,' says new research

Neanderthals were not as stupid as they have been portrayed, according to new research Tuesday showing their stone tools were as good as those made by the early ancestors of modern humans, Homo sapiens.

The findings by a team of scientists at British and US universities challenge the assumption that the ancestors of people living today drove Neanderthals into extinction by producing better tools.

Another reason to read and savor Robert J. Sawyer's "Hominids."

(Thanks to Nick Redfern.)

Global warming time bomb trapped in Arctic soil: study

Previous estimates of the Arctic carbon pool relied heavily on a relative handful of measurements conducted outside of the Arctic, and only to a depth of 40 centimetres (15.5 inches).

The study, published in the British journal Nature Geoscience, found that the stock of organic carbon "is considerably higher than previously thought" -- 60 percent more than the previously estimated.

This is roughly equivalent of one sixth of the entire carbon content in the atmosphere.

And that is just for North America.
Immersive 3D: 'Please touch' coming soon?

The ability to touch and manipulate 3D images is key to the future of interactive entertainment, not to mention every other episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now two UC-Santa Barbara researchers say they've built a prototype room-sized 3D display using projectors, a user-tracking system, and two FogScreens, which produce 2D images using microscopic water droplets and ultrasound.
Random photos:

Just when you thought NASA couldn't get more utterly dysfunctional . . .

NASA is Making Preliminary Plans to Extend Shuttle Launches Beyond 2010

This news may come as a surprise to many, especially since Michael Griffin's remarks that to extend the life of the Shuttle fleet could put astronauts in danger and cripple the agency's fledgling Constellation program. However, there has been mounting political pressure on NASA to find an alternative to depending on the Russian space agency's Soyuz spacecraft to access the International Space Station in the five years before the brand new Constellation Program is scheduled to launch by 2015.
What the hell. A couple group shots . . .

With Jennifer Adcock and Greg Hemmings in Tucson.

With Mike MacDonald and Greg in San Fransisco.
Think you're hip? Take a look at what William Gibson's listening to.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I plugged the USB cable into my new camera and downloaded the photos I took on my trip. The resolution and color are so beyond anything I've ever used before that it's actually sort of startling.

I've begun the rather tedious process of uploading my favorites to Flickr; I've begun a new set devoted entirely to high-resolution shots, where I'll publish most of my new photos (although I'll occasionally post resized versions here on the blog).

I'm excited at my new ability to "film" brief movies. The more I think about it, a Posthuman Blues YouTube channel of some kind strikes me as a good idea, although I should probably wait until I learn some basic video editing.

The pictures in this post were taken in Tucson and San Fransisco. I had an especially great time traipsing Haight-Ashbury with my hosts Mike MacDonald and Greg Hemmings. Hippie culture, with its ubiquitous specialty shops and panhandlers, was a strange and welcome surprise.

From some travel notes jotted on hotel notepad: "Dreadlocked hunchbacks cowering under anonymous smoke and fickle neon. Landscapes of commerce and graffiti, ghosts of hippie gods resplendent and reiterated."

I sometimes wonder if I could live more or less perpetually "on the road," given a plausible excuse. I'm leaning toward "yes."
I'm a somewhat jaded Fortean and I'd never so much as heard about "BEKs" until happening across the following.

Black Eyed Kids: Another Look

I suspect that BEKs appear as children because they want to be trusted; they attempt to appeal to human compassion and the natural desire to help a child. The average person is much more likely to let a strange child into their house than a strange adult. If we theorize that BEKs appear as children because they want to appear as children, we must then ask ourselves: why the black eyes? why the fear? Both seem counterproductive to the goal of the targeted person letting them in.

I have a theory; a hypothesis, and although I am going out on the proverbial limb here, I hope that you will stay with me and that it will make sense when I am done.

BEKs have a common feature with another entity that is often reported in the modern world: "grey" aliens. There is little difference between the large black eyes of the typical grey and the eyes of a BEK; some witnesses of BEKs also note that their eyes seem to be "too big" as well as being all-black. Greys are usually reported as being 4 - 5 feet tall, or about the same size as a young boy.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Update: Greg Bishop comments.
The evolution of mobile phones, from the impossibly archaic to the mouth-wateringly exotic:

Changing the way we think

Carr believes that the style of searching and exploration of links encouraged by search engines such as Google is changing the way heavy users think, reflecting that "over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going - so far as I can tell - but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think".

(Via Reality Carnival.)
Mark Carlotto has a revised edition of "The Cydonia Controversy" on the way. Here's a teaser video.

Found Image #13

Peugeot 888 future car is a concept done right: shape-shifting and green

The Peugeot 888 is billed as the "personal vehicle for the future Metropolis." For designer Oskar Johansen from Norway, that means a car with space for two with room for luggage, as well as a nifty shape-shifting body. On the highway, the Peugeot 888 stretches itself out flat so that it's stable and aerodynamic. In the city, however, it scrunches up for easier parking and taking up less of the road in general.

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blog of the day: CleanTechnica
Ancient Mayan underworld discovered in Mexico

Archeologists in Mexico think they might have discovered Xibalba, a mythical Mayan underworld also known as the "place of fear." After some serious scuba diving and inching across deeply submerged underwater tunnels near the Yucatan peninsula, investigators reached an entrance to a bunch of dry chambers with the stone ruins of eleven sacred temples and a 330-foot long road. There were also lots and lots of human bones.
How To Save the World From Asteroid Impact: Plastic Wrap

D'Souza's paper was titled "A Body Solar Sail Concept for the Deflection of 99942 Apophis." Her concept involves using a satellite orbiting Apophis to wrap it with ribbons of reflective Mylar sheeting. Covering just half of the asteroid would change its surface from dull to reflective, possibly enough to allow solar pressure to change the asteroid's trajectory.
Very Long-Term Backup

As durable as paper is, its inherent limitations in storing digital data are clear. Pity the person who would need to find something if the only backup of the web was a paper printout that filled several airline hangers. What we need are media that have the durability of paper and the accessibility of a floppy disk (or better!).
Images of the Arctic Ocean as We Will Know It

With the Arctic Ocean ice melting rapidly -- in fact, this summer it's already at the second-lowest level on record, and still shrinking -- it's time for us to start imagining what life will be like in the Arctic Circle when all the ice is gone. Some scientists predict that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free as soon as September, but more likely it will be ice-free all summer by 2030 or 2050. What will that look like?
Hacker loses extradition appeal

Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon was said to be "distraught" after losing the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. He faces extradition within two weeks.

The unemployed man could face life in jail if convicted of accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers.

The 42-year-old admitted breaking into the computers from his London home but said he sought information on UFOs.

I just uploaded 23 low-res cameraphone pictures to Flickr. Better photos forthcoming; I've consigned my new camera to a shelf while I catch up with news I missed while away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm in San Jose. Two interviews down, one to go. We're off to San Francisco tomorrow. I've been napping; I think the rest of the crew hit the town.

There's a trolley that passes by every 15 minutes. I'm considering strolling out into the night and catching a ride.

I sprang for a digital camera in Tucson. I can shoot video. A Posthuman Blues YouTube channel? Possibly . . .

More to come. In the meantime, I've been using the hell out of Twitter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thirty-eight people make reservations for space hotel

The journey of four days at a distance of 300 miles (450 kilometers) from the earth will cost each guest €3 million, that's about USD $4.46 million. The price may seem steep but it includes transport to an island in the Caribbean, an eighteen week intensive astronaut training program prior to the journey, and of course, the four days in space. Guests are also welcome to bring their families to the island.

A Plague of Angels (or, Rorschach in your living room!) (Peter Watts)

Yes, the technology will improve over time; yes, efficiency will increase. But we're still talking about an omnidirectional broadcast here; even if the bulk of the signal strength passes in one direction, there's still going to be at least some wasted energy going out along the whole 360.

More to the point though, is Smith's confident assertions that "the human body is not affected by magnetic fields". Maybe he's talking about a different model of human body. Maybe the model he's talking about comes with a Faraday cage built into the skull, and is not susceptible to the induction of religious rapture, selective blindness, or the impaired speech and memory effects that transcranial magnetic stimulation can provoke in our obsolete ol' baseline brains.
Although I won't be at all surprised if I publish a few posts before I leave, I'll be mostly offline from the 23rd to the 28th. I'll be in Tucson, LA, San Jose, and San Fransisco, respectively, as I finish my role as "investigator" for an exobiology/SETI documentary for Canadian TV. (If you're Canadian -- which, sadly, I am not -- you'll be able to see it in January.)

I'll keep the tweets coming.
Found Image #12

Mayan Muons and Unmapped Rooms

In the new issue of Archaeology, Samir S. Patel describes how "an almost featureless aluminum cylinder 5 feet in diameter" that spends its time "silently counting cosmic flotsam called muons" -- "ghost particles" that ceaselessly rain down from space -- will be installed in the jungles of Belize.

There, these machines will map the otherwise unexplored internal spaces of what the scientists call a "jungle-covered mound."

In other words, an ancient building that now appears simply to be part of the natural landscape -- a constructed terrain -- will be opened up to viewing for the first time since it was reclaimed by rain forest.

It's non-invasive archaeology by way of deep space.

This immediately reminded me of possible future exploration of anomalous formations on Mars.
Welcome to a New Reality (Cliff Pickover)

People afflicted with Charles Bonnet Syndrome see beings from another world. Many scientists would call these beings hallucinations. Others call this syndrome a portal to a parallel reality.

People with Charles Bonnet Syndrome (or "Bonnet-people") are otherwise mentally sound. The beings appear when the Bonnet-people's vision deteriorates as a result of eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration -- or when patients have had both eyes removed. Charles Bonnet Syndrome is more common in older people with a high level of education.

Bonnet-people report that they see apparitions resembling distorted faces, costumed figures, ghosts, and little people.

A few years ago I experienced an unexplained, if harmless, "retinal occlusion" -- essentially a spontaneous bruising of the retina. As the vision in the afflicted eye worsened due to the burst capillaries, I began seeing intricate patterns, especially in low ambient light. I've since identified the patterns as "entopic" images, thought by some to have served as the basis for early cave art.)

Although I never saw any "beings," I could sometimes make out suggestive detail of both biological and mechanical objects, and even interact with them through what, at the time, seemed to be a sort of telepathy. (I never thought what I was experiencing was anything but a subjective phenomenon, but that didn't make it any less interesting.)

Here's an account of one such Bonnet-like encounter:

In front of my face, at reading distance, there appeared to be multiple rows of compressed text, each word encapsulated in an ellipse. Each row moved rapidly from the right to the left -- too fast for me to make out any sort of narrative, but acutely responsive, so that I could visually choose a specific word-balloon and have it persist for a moment before vanishing -- instantly replaced by a stream of words with similar connotations. It was like looking into the mind of a language database or some futuristic heads-up display word processor. It also had the feel of a timed quiz or test of some sort; I can see something like it eventually becoming a high-bandwidth Web application.

I can't help but be vaguely reminded of Philip K. Dick's experience with the "phosphene activity" that inspired the eye-fooling body-suits of "A Scanner Darkly."
At top of Greenland, new worrisome cracks in ice

In northern Greenland, a part of the Arctic that had seemed immune from global warming, new satellite images show a growing giant crack and an 11-square-mile chunk of ice hemorrhaging off a major glacier, scientists said Thursday.

And that's led the university professor who spotted the wounds in the massive Petermann glacier to predict disintegration of a major portion of the Northern Hemisphere's largest floating glacier within the year.

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I've been fumblingly attempting to create a representational avatar of myself in Second Life. One of the many hurdles I've encountered so far is tracking down a pair of eyeglasses that fit, hence the "steampunk" welding goggles in the "photo" above.

My SL handle is "Hiromi Luminos."
NASA Releases Images and Video of Orion Failed Parachute Test

Oh-so-very Roswell . . .
Religion a figment of human imagination

No, wait! Surely you're just kidding, right?

Humans alone practice religion because they're the only creatures to have evolved imagination.

That's the argument of anthropologist Maurice Bloch of the London School of Economics. Bloch challenges the popular notion that religion evolved and spread because it promoted social bonding, as has been argued by some anthropologists.

Instead, he argues that first, we had to evolve the necessary brain architecture to imagine things and beings that don't physically exist, and the possibility that people somehow live on after they've died.

On the other hand, would we recognize a chimpanzee religion as such if we saw it?
The Interstellar Conundrum Reconsidered

No one can say whether interstellar missions will ever be feasible. What we can insist is that studying physics from the standpoint of propulsion science may tell us a great deal about how the universe works, whether or not we ever find ways of extracting propulsive effects from such futuristic means as dark matter or dark energy. And if it turns out that our breakthroughs fail to materialize, the potential of multi-generational missions supported by human crews still exists. They will be almost inconceivably demanding, but nothing in known physics says that a thousand-year mission to Centauri is beyond the reach of human technology within a future we can still recognize.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cat with four ears

Yoda is a Chicago cat with four ears. Valerie and Ted Rock found him in a local pub being "passed round by curious drinkers," hopefully not like that scene in Lynch's The Elephant Man.
Today's my birthday. Which means you have to indulge me and listen to Morrissey.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dark Roasted Blend is on the toy robot beat.
Lifelike animation heralds new era for computer games

The company says "Emily" is considered to be one of the first animations to have bypassed the "uncanny valley" -- which refers to the perception that animation looks less realistic as it approaches human likeness.

OK, I did it. Now it's your turn.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mogul Didn't Matter (Kevin Randle)

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with everyone knowing that there are dozens of spy satellites up there photographing everything down here, there was no need to keep the Mogul secret, so the Air Force trotted it out to explain the Roswell crash debris. Mogul was a high priority project, they say. It was top secret, they say. But in the end, it was just a bunch of balloons tied together, sometimes with microphones attached and sometimes not. Nothing unusual to fool ranchers, Army officers, sheriffs or anyone else who might have found the remains of Mogul.
This Lexus concept car looks fetchingly like the "spinners" from "Blade Runner."

More right this way . . .
No words.

(Thanks to Aberrant News.)
Do subatomic particles have free will?

Human free will might seem like the squishiest of philosophical subjects, way beyond the realm of mathematical demonstration. But two highly regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.

Who I Think the Visitors Are (Anne Strieber)

My theory about "the visitors" is different from that of most UFO investigators: I think they are either time travelers, visitors from a parallel universe, the dead -- or all 3.

Over the years, we have received many letters connecting the spirits of the dead with visitors. This type of anecdote is anathema to old line UFO researchers, who want the whole thing to be about the conventional concept of encounters with aliens who have arrived in space ships from another planet.
They just don't make commercials like this anymore.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Found Image #11

Alien Will Kick Your Ass at Chess

It's been a while since I've stolen somebody's queen, but two alien-themed chess sets are putting me in the mood to do it. You can pick between AVP or aliens vs. Ripley.

I suppose I'm a little disturbed at how cool I think this is, especially since I'm an abhorrent chess player.

I want this biker jacket!
Russian Interest in MJ-12?

Hey, who can resist a headline like that?
Film-maker Jesús Olmo sent me the following clip today. It's quite possibly the best metaphor for the human condition I've ever seen, subtle and unnerving. (I could say more, but I recommend you watch it.)

MVI_8977 movie from Jesús Olmo on Vimeo.

Flatteringly, the video's captioned by a quote from an angsty essay I posted way back in 2004:

Perhaps we are larvae, subject to incurable neuroses that will cease to exist only when we ourselves cease to exist, supplanted by something new, and fundamentally better. Maybe some people's "winnowing" -- seemingly psychotic from our narrow vantage on the evolutionary bridge -- is an essential instrument in the betterment of our species, or at least a lens through which to glimpse where we're headed.
Found Image #10

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In the not-so-distant future, lighting fixtures will approximate sentience.

The AI Light is made in nylon using EOS's laser sintering process. Inside each wing are two actuators, one to control bending and one to control twisting; these allow the light to perform fluid, organic transformations, rather than harsh, robotic movements. The 'AI' refers to the way in which the light learns from its surroundings, and allows what Assa calls "training rather than controlling."

(Via Beyond the Beyond.)

Virtual Transgender Suit, avatar termination and other online world tales

A study by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University has found that 54 percent of all males and 68 percent of all females "gender swap"--or create online personas of their opposite sex.

A real life manifestation of that practice, the Virtual Transgender Suit replicates the aesthetics of the typical virtual female form and catapults them within a real world context. The piece was specifically designed for men to wear in the real world, creating a bridge between real (where cross-dressing is not really socially accepted) and virtual.

(Via Next Nature.)
Photos: Tetrapod beaches of Japan

Hit the beach anywhere in Japan, and you are likely to see endless piles of tetrapods -- enormous four-legged concrete structures intended to prevent coastal erosion. By some estimates, more than 50% of Japan's 35,000-kilometer (22,000-mi) coastline has been altered with tetrapods and other forms of concrete.

Future archaeologists might wonder if these structures hint at the existence of a prior technological civilization or if they're merely the result of fortuitous natural forces.
Russia threatens nuclear attack on Poland over US missile shield deal

Russia's nuclear rhetoric marks an intense new phase in the war of words over Georgia. The Caucasus conflict has spiralled into a Cold War style confrontation between Moscow and Washington in less than a week.

Not me.

What famous person (or character) do I most resemble? There's a new poll on the sidebar with four options -- although if you can think of any others let me know.
Library of Dust

In 1913, Maisel explained, an Oregon state psychiatric institution began to cremate the remains of its unclaimed patients. Their ashes were then stored inside individual copper canisters and moved into a small room, where they were stacked onto pine shelves.

[. . .]

Over time, however, the canisters have begun to react chemically with the human ashes held inside them; this has thus created mold-like mineral outgrowths on the exterior surfaces of these otherwise gleaming cylinders.

There was a certain urgency to the project, then, as "the span of time that these canisters are going to be in this state is really finite," Maisel explained in the Archinect interview, "and the hospital is concerned that they're now basically corroding."

[. . .]

David Maisel's photographs of nearly 110 funereal copper canisters are a mineralogical delight. Bearded with a frost of subsidiary elements, their surfaces are now layered, phosphorescent, transformed. Unsettled archipelagos of mineral growths bloom like tumors from the sides and bottoms -- but is that metal one sees, or some species of fungus? The very nature of these canisters becomes suspect.
I found a serviceable bookshelf, slated for dumpsterhood, the other day. I'm busy populating it with titles I've amassed over the last two years. (The vast majority of my collection remains entombed in my parents' basement, at least for the time being.)

What a pleasurable reunion to have my books in sight instead of cocooned in cat-proof Sterilite crates.
World's Smallest Solar Car: Select Solar Mini

Talk about bringing solar power to the palm of your hand! The World’s Smallest Solar Racing Car is a tiny, fully-functional solar powered vehicle topped with a minuscule photovoltaic panel.

Add a miniature Martian landscape and -- voila! -- you have a respectable diorama of the Mars Pathfinder mission.
Found Image #9

Friday, August 15, 2008

Now this is a laptop.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Good stuff: The Cyberpunk Project Information Database.

Exclusive: A robot with a biological brain

"The robot's biological brain is made up of cultured neurons which are placed onto a multi electrode array (MEA). The MEA is a dish with approximately 60 electrodes which pick up the electrical signals generated by the cells. This is then used to drive the movement of the robot. Every time the robot nears an object, signals are directed to stimulate the brain by means of the electrodes. In response, the brain's output is used to drive the wheels of the robot, left and right, so that it moves around in an attempt to avoid hitting objects. The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer, its sole means of control is from its own brain."
Scientists to study synthetic telepathy

The brain-computer interface would use a noninvasive brain imaging technology like electroencephalography to let people communicate thoughts to each other. For example, a soldier would "think" a message to be transmitted and a computer-based speech recognition system would decode the EEG signals. The decoded thoughts, in essence translated brain waves, are transmitted using a system that points in the direction of the intended target.

Meanwhile, at, I chastise the so-called UFO "community."

My new "Loving the Alien" column has been posted at Futurismic. Talking points: Second Life, science fiction and posthumanity.